To understand this relationship, which defines the feudalistic political governance of Thailand, look no further than the case of Somchai Khunploem, who is commonly known as Kamnan Poh (or district chief Poh). He has also been dubbed the Godfather of Chonburi and the Godfather of the East.
On Sept 30, more than 200 well-wishers celebrated his 75th birthday at the Khunploem residence in Chonburi, the provincial home of the infamous Pattaya City bosses. Among the distinguished guests at the party was the provincial governor, prominent local politicians and businessmen and members of parliament.
Perhaps the most distinguished of the well-wishers was his daughter-in-law, Culture Minister Sukumol Khunploem, whose husband, Mr Sontaya, was one of the 111 banned Thai Rak Thai executives. Yes, she’s his nominee and her husband, along with over 100 other unbanned TRT executives, is eagerly anticipating a cabinet reshuffle.
Members of Kamnan Poh’s clan hold important positions, in and out of politics. His sons also head two Premier League football clubs, with Mr Sontaya at Pattaya United FC and Mr Wittaya at Chonburi FC. His other son, Mr Itthipol, is the mayor of Pattaya.
This is a dynasty, a feudal ruling family with its own fiefdom.
However, the patriarch is a convicted criminal, a fugitive from the law and also an accused organised crime boss; hence the birthday party was symbolic, in the absence of the birthday boy.
Kamnan Poh has been found guilty of graft and was sentenced to five years and four months in jail. In 2004, he was also sentenced to 25 years in prison for hiring a gunman to commit murder. Somchai is reportedly hiding in Cambodia, a favorite destination for high profile Thai fugitives.
It is good to know that the court is capable of finding powerful figures guilty, there is consolation in that. But there’s something else quite worrying.
In a developed democracy, or at least a country aspiring to become a developed democracy, ministers, politicians and officials attending the birthday party of a convicted criminal would cause a sensational scandal. It would bring the credibility of the ruling government into question, causing the spin doctors to run circles.
But here in the Kingdom of Thailand, it’s just another year and another birthday party.
One may draw similarities to the case of Thaksin Shinawatra. However, some may argue that his conviction was unfair and is a result of a military coup. But the same argument cannot be said in the case of Kamnan Poh. There is no excuse here.
Let’s not fault the family for throwing the birthday party either, because he is their father, good or bad, for better or for worse.
But the political make-up of this nation is so deeply feudalistic. These feudal dynasties are such an integral part of local and national government, on both sides of the political divide. National leaders who cry and moan for democracy have an intimate and visible alliance with these feudal dynasties.
These facts should make the Thai voters question the political structure of the nation and the credibility of those we vote for.
However the majority of the Thai voters – on either side of the political divide – do not question this structural failing, do not demand reforms and continue to give their blind loyalty to their feudal lords.
From national leaders to the common man on the street, our lips champion ideology, our actions worship personalities.
Over the past six years, the many protests and the many deaths have been in the name of one person or another, but there was never a single march to demand actual political reform of this feudal political governance.
This social mentality celebrates the most basic of Buddhist principles, karma. We reap what we sow; we get what we vote for: tortoise development, limited social mobility, incompetent leaders, the lack of accountability, the arbitrariness of the rule of law and rampant corruption, among many other failings.
Organised crime doesn’t have to buy politicians. It’s more lucrative to actually become politicians.
Thai democracy is not like a box of chocolates, we know exactly what we’re gonna get.